Hope fades for the vanished film writer

Tim Cornwell in Los Angeles on the mystery of Gary Devore
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The Independent Online
Screenwriters are complicated characters who occasionally end up living their own films. By repute they live alcoholic, self-destructive lives: witness William Holden's character in Sunset Boulevard or Nicholas Cage's in Leaving Las Vegas, who both ended up dead. Which may be why there is an element of the surreal in the disappearance of screenwriter Gary Devore, with its Chandleresque cast of good-looking women and fast- talking men.

Next week it will be four months since Devore disappeared as he was driving home to Los Angeles through the Mojave desert from New Mexico. An air and ground search by police, a private detective and a psychic hired by his wife, a $100,000 reward and a bizarre but effective public relations campaign have failed, apparently, to turn up a single clue. It could easily be the opening act of a screenplay by the 56-year-old writer - such as Betrayal, his tale of a CIA employee who vanishes and whose fiancee sets out to find him.

Devore, a one-time truck driver, began his screenwriting career in 1981 with Back Roads, starring Tommy Lee Jones, at whose wedding he was best man. He helped to adapt Frederick Forsyth's The Dogs of War for the screen, and rewrote Raw Deal for Arnold Schwarzenegger. He graduated, as proven writers do, to "script doctor", treating others' scripts. He had rocky times, including bankrupcy, but in April he signed a deal to write and, for the first time, direct.

"He told me he was feeling fine, he was pumping full of adrenalin, he would be home in a few hours," said his fourth wife, Wendy Oates-Devore, of the last recorded call from his mobile phone. As often before, he had borrowed the Santa Fe home of actress Marsha Mason, about 12 hours' drive away, to wrestle with the script.

Devore enjoyed writing, and driving, overnight. But when he did not arrive that morning, his wife immediately contacted the California Highway Patrol. The Santa Barbara sheriff's department has Devore listed as "missing under very suspicious circumstances". It has eliminiated hundreds of tips - that he was seen fishing in Idaho, or driving in Miami - and the FBI has joined the hunt. The writer disappeared, it is said, on a remote stretch of desert road commonly used by drug smugglers and known as Speed Alley.

Mrs Devore, a former model turned TV pundit on plastic surgery, has been granted a court order to take over his assets. She has sold his Harley- Davidson motorbike and put his expensive Chevrolet Corvette on the market as security against the reward money. She still talks freely to every reporter who calls, from the America's Most Wanted TV show to USA Today, hoping to revive the faltering tide of publicity. Her theory is that her husband, 5ft 11in and by her account carrying a Colt .45, was targeted for his Ford Expedition, a monster four-wheel-drive beloved of the Hollywood crowd, which he had bought only two months before.

"You're right I feel bad," she said of selling the bike, "but there isn't anything more I can do. I feel absolutely horrible about it, like I'm dismantling his life. . . . "

This week she plans to modify the reward, possibly so that it demands not just information but her husband's safe return.

Then there is Devore's publicist, Michael Sands, who issued an early press release on the case titled "Without A Trace . . . movie title or reality? Is art imitating life or the other way around?" He suggests that his client was carjacked, and that he might have been left for dead or eaten by animals while his vehicle was taken to Mexico or the Middle East. "I like to think optimistically, personally," says Mr Sands, "that he's alive, he's a survivor."

The occasional hints in earlier news reports that Devore might have staged his own disappearance, or that the affair was some Hollywood hype, appear to have given way to a long wait. If he was living out a script, he has missed his entrance.